Thursday, April 17, 2008

Relevance versus irrelevance (with a reply of sorts)

Reidar Visser says the de facto firing by Maliki of the two top security officials in Basra is probably part of an attempt by Maliki to effect a closing of the ranks within his minority government. (, free email subscription) The top Defence Ministry official, General Mohan al-Firayji, had been opposed by Supreme Council people locally in Basra long before the recent fighting, and his firing, Visser thinks, reflects a belated concession by Maliki to one of his very few supporting parties in the GreenZone. Visser thinks recent evidence of "more pragmatism" by Maliki vis-a-vis Kurdish claims in the oil-and-gas debates is probably another indication of the same thing. Or as he puts it:
Recent reports of increased pragmatism on the part of Maliki vis-à-vis Kurdish claims in the oil question could be another expression of a ruling clique that sees the necessity of first and foremost staying united in the face of growing parliamentary opposition of the kind seen in the debate over local elections - where Sunni and Shiite Islamists as well as secularists came together to challenge Maliki in a demand for early elections. The tension between a minority government and the parliament which was exhibited on that occasion seems far more profound than the shaky and rather hollow “anti-militia consensus” that was recently touted so enthusiastically in the US Congress hearings as evidence of broadened support for Maliki and his government.
As for persons named to replace Mohan and the the police chief as top officials in Basra, Visser has this to say:
The replacements for the two demoted officers are reported as Muhammad Jawad Huwaydi (chief of operations) and Adil Dahham (police chief). Background information on the two is sketchy so far, but it is noteworthy that Huwaydi seems to have had some kind of special operations background before he assumed control of the 14th division of the Iraqi army. Unlike Mohan, he is thought to be from outside the area. As for the new police chief, who was previously employed in Baghdad, someone in the defence ministry with an identical name (the new appointee is sometimes referred to as Adil Dahham al-Amiri) was cleared by the de-Baathification committee in early 2007. If this turns out to be the same person, it would suggest a background from the old Iraqi army rather than a long-time connection with ISCI’s Badr Brigades.
I don't want to alarm anyone, but there was a report yesterday in AlHayat (referred to in a recent post here) quoting a Baghdad-area Awakening official who said there is an agreement for the Interior Ministry to hire a lot of Baghdad-area Awakening members, essentially to replace Sadr-sympathizers who have been kicked out for not fighting in Basra and elsewhere. (And there was an immediate knee-jerk reaction from Sadrists at, who see this as a sign of the dreaded Baathist return to the Green Zone).

Logically, if this Interior Ministry hiring policy is confirmed, it could well be seen in conjunction with the reluctance of many existing Iraqi forces to fight against fellow-Iraqis in Sadr City, and their possible replacement by more motivated forces, implying a ratcheting up of the possibilities for a new round of civil war. And if in fact the new police chief in Basra is in fact a former Baath official, the implication might well be the same.

And meanwhile, it is worth noting that Sunni Arabs in the Mosul area have the same kind of civil-war/fitna concerns about a major Peshmerga role side by side with US forces in the coming battle to regain central-government control of Mosul from a variety of Sunni Arab resistance groups. See this warning from the Red Crescent last month. And there is this report in Azzaman today in which Mosul-area tribes are described as concerned about the sectarian loyalties of military units sent from Baghdad in the coming fight:
In Mosul, the Tribal Council of the governate of Ninawa [mainly Sunni] asked the government to open the door to volunteers from the city of Mosul [to join] the armed forces in order to guarantee the protection of the city from a variety of threats to it. A spokesman for the tribes said: "We are concerned about the effects of operations by military units sent from Baghdad. It is well-known that [the Iraqi army] is penetrated or melded with militias right up to its leadership sectors. That is a screaming outrage to the city, and responsibility for the results will be laid to the Maliki government if it does not take speedy action to get away from the dynamics of militias and parties and certain influential persons in the government".
So that's the picture. Maliki closing ranks with his allies the Supreme Council (Badr Corps) and the Kurdish parties (Peshmerga), while those on the outside (Sadrists in Sadr City, and Sunni tribes in Ninawa/Mosul) see trouble.

Needless to say, the debate raging between the war party and the Democratic policy establishment about what would happen if the US were to declare a withdrawal schedule bears no relation to any of this. That's because it is a debate about something that isn't going to happen, rather than a debate about what is in fact happening.

Here are the results of my request yesterday for comments on the US role in fomenting a Gaza-type civil war via a combination of airstrikes and Awakening councils in Sadr City:

Juan Cole: no response
Marc Lynch: no response *

Is it possible that the Democratic Party is on board with this, and that's why it isn't being raised as an issue? I don't know.

* Marc Lynch has now graced me with reply of sorts, on his website. Unable to hide a degree of irritation about the lack of a prior e-mail, he promises not to write about this issue, in order to teach me a lesson! But I think he honors me excessively when he calls these posts a grand theory of civil-war promotion. They are about Sadr City (where today VOI says at least 300 have been killed and 1621 injured in the American-led attacks since March 25, without any significant mention of this by big-circulation left), with today some further questions, including about the plans for Mosul.


Blogger William deB. Mills said...

The implications of Washington's current tactics in Iraq and the absence of informed debate by the whistling-in-the-dark candidates are not trivial; they are fundamental and long-term. My view follows, but I too would encourage Iraq experts like Professors Lynch and Cole to help us think about the future implications of current U.S. behavior.

The tactics that Washington is pursuing in Iraq appear to be exacerbating several long-term trends that risk destabilizing Iraq even further and may well also undermine U.S. influence. Washington’s militant intervention into intra-Shi’ite factional politics is pouring gasoline on that dispute, fomenting civil war between the two most powerful Shi’ite militias in Iraq by encouraging (or ordering?) Maliki to suppress Moqtada’s Mahdi Army. Washington is simultaneously laying the groundwork for a civil war between Iraqi Shi’a and Sunni by funding the organization of numerous local Sunni military units (e.g., the Awakening groups), which could evolve rapidly into a Sunni militia that would challenge the Shi’a since these units are gaining power without a commensurate move toward satisfaction of Sunni grievances. Washington is also fighting Iran’s war in Iraq by intervening in Shi’ite factional disputes on the side of the pro-Iranian Badr faction that constitutes Maliki’s main support. And finally, since Moqtada represents the poor urban Shi’ite underclass beyond the reach of government services, Washington is making war on the poor, a bad foundation indeed for building democracy.
A policy of marginalizing the poor by emphasizing the use of force to suppress their representatives, not to mention collective punishment against the poor themselves through both neglecting to provide services and turning Sadr City into a blockaded ghetto, sets up society for a long period of conflict. (For parallels, check out the impact of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, which provoked the formation of Hezbollah; the half century-long civil war against the rural poor in Colombia; and of course the endless sad saga of the mistreatment of the population of Gaza.)
An alternative exists: Washington could encourage inclusiveness by working to open the political system as wide as possible. First, Washington could try to include the Shi’a poor in the political system by maximizing the central government’s provision of social services to areas such as Sadr City. The new plan to form “sons of Iraq” councils in Sadr City is a gesture in this direction, but clearly playing second fiddle to the Bush Administration’s addiction to violence as the solution of choice to all problems. Empowering the poor would, of course, empower Moqtada, but empowering opponents is what democracy is all about.
Second, Washington could promote an Iraqi energy policy focused on ensuring that all groups of Iraqis benefit. Such a policy might, of course, entail certain costs for Big Oil.
Third, Washington could push for the inclusion of the new Sunni groups into the government and army. Of course, the prospect of the emergence of a truly national Iraqi government might cause some eyebrows to be lifted on the part of Maliki and al-Hakim, who think they have a lock on national power; any neocons who still foresee a lasting U.S. condominium in Iraq; and Tehran, increasingly comfortable as the real power behind the throne.
Admittedly, the Bush Administration has a problem. If it tries to bring everyone into the political system, then Iraqi forces favoring Iraqi control over Iraqi oil resources will no doubt gain influence. So will Iraqi forces favoring Iraqi control over Iraq in general, which might shorten by several decades the lifespan of all those very solidly constructed U.S. military bases. So the Administration has to weigh that against the hornet’s nest of ethnic conflict into which it is now sticking its big, pointed stick. What to do? What to do? After all these years and all that money, should Washington let the bases and the oil slip through its fingers in the name of inclusiveness and democracy? Or, should it suffer through a new wave of ethnic violence that will plague Bush’s last few months in office, the election, and the beginning (if not the middle and end) of the next president’s term in office as well? To some, it may indeed seem tempting to try to force the transformation of Sadr City into one 3,000,000-man-strong strategic hamlet. (

9:40 AM  
Blogger annie said...

wow, excellent comment william

10:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wiki definition of civil war:

"A civil war is a war in which parties within the same culture, society or nationality fight against each other for the control of political power."

The government of Iraq has decided to use its army to destroy the largest and most powerful opposition party through the use of its militia infiltrated and controlled (SIIC/Badr) military wing in concert with foreign occupation (U.S.) forces - and that is not civil war? Not only is it civil war, but it is indubitably civil war instigated and initiated by the above said group, for strictly political reasons - in advance of upcoming elections. Even the U.S. civil war, is largely agreed to have been initiated by a loss of political power and the election of Lincoln.

Its the height of hypocrisy to claim that first, there is no civil war in Iraq, but more importantly, that the civil war is or has not been implemented through the concerted actions of the U.S/Maliki/Badr authorities that started it in order to consolidate their political power through the elimination of their political opposition. This is equally true with the 2006-7 ethnic cleansing of Baghdad under the operation "forward together", instigated by the same, for the same reasons.

The notion that "civil war" in Iraq is/has been a spontaneous occurrence of general un-organized anarchy of personal and sectarian vendettas is an abject lie, perpetuated to fulfill the myth of the U.S. as peacemaker - which couldn't be further from the truth.

anna missed

1:04 AM  

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